I was a woman on a mission again. I’m always trying to do too many things in too short a time, but as a self-proclaimed champion multi-tasker, I’m usually successful. So as I raced my cart toward the busy checkout lanes, I scanned for the shortest line. There it was—only one couple paying and no one waiting.
I slid into line and exchanged a quick glance of acknowledgment with the woman in front of me. Seconds later, we caught each other in another glance. Then the man glanced at me. If we’d all had cartoon word bubbles above our heads, they’d have had captions like: “I think I know you, but I’m not sure, and I’m too embarrassed to start a conversation in case I’m wrong.”
While this surreptitious gazing continued, I launched a search into my brain’s vast file of names and faces. Aha! The older couple who live on the acreage down our gravel road, the Smiths* (*names have been changed to protect the confused). At least I was pretty sure that’s who they were, although I hadn’t seen them since we all went into winter hibernation several months ago.
I smiled. “Hi neighbors!” They smiled back in relief that the awkward moment had passed and identification had been made. We exchanged Minnesota niceties about the weather, the snow, the weather, the cold, the weather, the icy roads. After remembering that he’d suffered some health setbacks last year, I commented that he looked great. He grinned and patted his stomach: “Yup, lost some weight, too!”
By this time, the clerk had their groceries bagged. “Stay warm,” I called out as they headed toward the door. The clerk began scanning my items and then gasped: “Oh, no, they forgot a bag!” (It contained two cans of baked beans and one of green beans, to be precise.)
Feeling neighborly, I took the bag. “I’ll drop it off,” I said, “I drive right by.” And so I did. No one was home, so I hung the plastic sack on the front door. When I got home, I called and left a message, in case, like us, they never use the front door themselves.
Fast forward two days. My phone rang, and it was Mrs. Smith. “Umm. We got your message and found the groceries, but I don’t think they’re ours.”
I paused and thought of a birthday card I’d just sent a septuagenarian family friend. The front read: “You’ve reached that point in life where you begin to wonder about the hereafter.” The inside read: “Every time you walk into a room, you wonder what you’re here after.”
With just a hint of pity, I thought Mrs. Smith had reached that point in life.
I recounted the grocery store incident. “Well,” she sighed. “I guess it could have been me. My mind’s been in a whirlwind since Mr. Smith went in the hospital a couple of weeks ago. I just brought him home yesterday.”
I paused again. “You mean he wasn’t at the store with you last Thursday?” We conversed and sleuthed a bit more, and then both started to laugh at the mistaken identity. I covered my embarrassment by joking: “You may as well enjoy a bean casserole!”
She comforted me with: “Well, thanks for having a kind heart to do a kind deed.”
That night I confessed the ordeal to my husband and shared my frustration after hours spent googling my frazzled brain to determine just who that couple in the store was.
“Well,” he said. “You just proved that doppelgangers exist!” I left the room and googled the online dictionary: “a ghostly counterpart of a living person.” First, I shook my head at his surreal suggestion. Then I decided I’d go with his theory. It was better than admitting maybe I’m the one who’s reached the age of “hereafter.”
Laurie Helmers is an area teacher, musician and writer who has learned that it’s perfectly OK to say to someone: “You look
familiar, but I’m not recalling your name.”
About a year later, I was exercising at the Tone ‘n Tan when two new members walked in—the couple whose identity I mistook in the line at the grocery store! I introduced myself and told them the story. They stared at me for a few seconds and then started laughing uncontrollably. The man said, “So THAT’S what happened to those beans!”